Thursday, March 08, 2012

The FAQ - from this Oxfordian's POV

I recently received a questionnaire from some high school students doing a project on Edward de Vere, Shakespeare and the authorship question. They asked some good questions that really got to the heart of the matter in the Shakespeare debate.

A number of readers have requested I post the (14) questions and my responses to them. 

What follows are one Oxfordian's opinions and perspectives. Others in the trenches of course have very different opinions and points of view. Vive la diffĂ©rence. 

With that caveat in mind, then...

1. How long have you researched Shakespeare and the authorship question?

I have been researching Shakespeare and the authorship mystery since 1993. I wrote a book, published in 2005, "Shakespeare" by Another Name, which was republished in ebook format last year. 

SBAN presents what I -- along with a small but growing minority of scholars, writers, theatrical professionals and Shakespeare buffs -- suspect is a very likely scenario, namely that the Elizabethan court dramatist Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, played a key role in the creation of the plays and poems published under the name "Shakespeare." I personally suspect de Vere was essentially the author himself. Others find a group collaboration scenario more probable. In any event, de Vere deserves much more attention by both scholars and people in the theater -- who of course bring these works to life. 

2. What ultimately made you believe Shakespeare was not the true author of all of his plays, sonnets, etc.?

Here's a great website that collects many of the so-called "anti-Stratfordian" arguments but does not advocate for any alternative "Shakespeare" candidate. Check out the YouTube video, in particular. A fine introduction to the case. 

Ultimately, I'd say there is no single piece of evidence that sums it all up. This is a case that has no "smoking gun," as it were. Instead it's built on circumstantial evidence

That is, the important argument centers around not one damning fact or another but rather the collection of all the facts concerning Will Shakespeare (or Shakspere) of Stratford-upon-Avon and how incongruous that is with what the "Shakespeare" plays and poems tell us about the author. For starters, whoever wrote these works makes clear and unequivocal references to more than a hundred books -- many of them obscure and some unavailable at the time in English. There's not a scrap of evidence that Shakspere was even literate (at least in the sense of having any ability to write)... let alone that he owned any books. See the "will" question below. 

3. Do you believe William Shakespeare was a real person or completely fabricated? Please elaborate.

Will Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon was clearly a real person baptized in Stratford in April 1564 -- for whom there is unequivocal evidence of his, yes, existing, growing up (no records of any schooling), probably moving to London in the late 1580s or early 1590s. He very likely got involved in the theatrical scene both as a producer and bit-part actor too. Diana Price's Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography, for me, was the starting point that demonstrated a clear and convincing case that Will Shakspere was a businessman in London who was involved in the theater in some form. Scuttlebutt around London suggested that he liked to claim credit for writing other people's works. And, Oxfordians say, the works of an anonymous court dramatist, Edward de Vere, were somehow associated with him -- either actively (i.e. he claimed credit for them) or passively (other people, for their own reasons, used him as the front for these politically dangerous works). 

4. Do you believe that Edward de Vere used "Shakespeare" as a cover name for publishing his work? If yes, why do you think he did this?

That's a long story, not easily summarized. It's essentially the story of "Shakespeare" by Another Name. In short form I'd point you to a series of podcasts I did that answer some of the very questions you pose. In particular Episode 1 "Introducing... 'Shakespeare'".

In very short form, it's ultimately about sex and politics. The "Shakespeare" canon -- as read from an Oxfordian perspective -- becomes much more contemporary, much more autobiographical, much more political. Hamlet's play-within-a-play is essentially the model of what Oxfordians are talking about: A powerful courtier tries to "catch the conscience of the king" using drama. Only in Oxford's case, that drama became so popular that it was not just staged at court but later (perhaps decades later) was adapted for the public stage. In that setting, there were too many powerful people (the queen, her chief ministers of state, fellow powerful courtiers and families) who were depicted in too many unflattering ways for these works to be associated directly with the court. This is why many Oxfordians suspect Shakspere served as some sort of front-man for the works. 

As a somewhat contemporary (1950s & '60s) analogy, consider the case of the "blacklisted" screenwriter Dalton Trumbo who couldn't get work in Hollywood under his own name, so he hired front-men to take the credit for writing Trumbo's screenplays. 

5. If you answered yes to the above question, do you think Edward de Vere purposely chose the name of a man who was supposedly illiterate ?

Good question. I honestly don't know the answer to this one -- and I don't really venture an answer in SBAN. I think that's an open question for present-day researchers -- and perhaps future scholars such as yourselves -- to tackle.

6. What are the main/key points as to why you believe that Edward de Vere was the real author?

A top five list (in no particular order) might be

1) Italy
2) Bible 
3) Contemporaries
4) Autobiography
5) 1604

In other words...

1) The evidence is very strong, I think, that the author of the dozen or so "Shakespeare" plays set in Italy were drawn from intimate first-hand knowledge of the locations being dramatized. In fact, to a good approximation, the Italian regions and cities so accurately portrayed in the "Shakespeare" canon are also the known ports of call on Edward de Vere's 1575-'76 Italian grand tour. The late Richard Paul Roe wrote a book that HarperCollins published this year that makes this overwhelming case. Here's a good book review.

2) Edward de Vere's personal, hand-annotated copy of the Bible contain more than a hundred underlined passages that are also some of the most important biblical references in the "Shakespeare" canon. Put another way, the unique and idiosyncratic biblical knowledge that de Vere records in his bible overlaps in stunning ways with the references to the bible in the "Shakespeare" plays and poems. The Oxfordian scholar Roger Stritmatter has done the definitive work here. 

Also the Georgetown University professor of psychology Richard Waugaman has some very insightful writings about de Vere's bible and "Shakespeare" too. (See articles in this link on the right hand side of the page)

3) Contemporaries of de Vere and Shakspere arguably "squealed" -- they blew both Shakspere's cover and de Vere's cover. There would be no authorship debate of course if any of those allusions were unequivocal. But the contemporary references are pretty damning all the same. (This from the new "Argument" chapter in the 2011 edition of SBAN)

4) The "Shakespeare" works are incredibly, stunningly autobiographical -- as read from the perspective that de Vere was the author. That's again the story of "Shakespeare" by Another Name. For the manifold connections to Hamlet and King Lear, for instance, check out the relevant podcasts here.

5) The author of the "Shakespeare" canon -- according to essentially (arguably) all available evidence -- stopped writing in 1604, the year Edward de Vere died. Will Shakspere had another dozen years yet to live and according to conventional chronology had yet to "write" many of the great plays. The evidence for any new "Shakespeare" work being composed after 1604 is paltry to say the least. See the "1604" material referenced below. 

7. Can you explain the difference between the name "Shakespeare" and the name "Shakspere"?

Will Shakspere (as he tended to prefer to spell his name) was born in Stratford in 1564 and died in Stratford in 1616. He lived in London for a time -- exactly when is still unclear. Orthodox scholars say he wrote the plays and poems that some contemporaries credited to him, published under the name "Shakespeare" or "Shake-speare." Many Oxfordians say Shakspere served as a front of some sort. So Shakspere = "Shakespeare" is the conventional (Stratfordian) theory. Oxford = "Shakespeare" is the Oxfordian theory. 

8. Can you explain what you know about William Shakespeare's will and what you find odd about it?

It spells out in great detail a lived life of a businessman and shareholder in the London theater world. But it doesn't even contain the slightest hint that the man was an author. The will is very damning evidence, I think, that there's something very strange going on with Will Shakspere. I highly recommend listening to this podcast that dissects the will in detail -- and turns out to be an incredible piece of forensic detective work by the scholar Bonner Miller Cutting. The will alone makes a very strong case that Will Shakspere was not the author orthodox scholars claim he was. 

9. Can you explain what you know about the First Folio?

The First Folio was published in 1623 containing almost all of the dramatic works of "Shakespeare." (The Sonnets and other poems were published separately.) The Folio was produced very hastily -- begun soon after Edward de Vere's son Henry, 18th Earl of Oxford had been thrown in jail. The 18th Earl was sent to the Tower for working against King James and James's Spanish conspirators to engineer a Spanish marriage to the next king of England, then-prince Charles. The "Spanish marriage" threatened to become a Catholic takeover of Protestant England. Once Henry de Vere was put in the tower, with the Spanish ambassador (who wielded a lot of power with James) indicating his intent to have Henry de Vere executed, the First Folio production process went into overdrive... almost as if Edward de Vere's heirs saw a rapidly closing window of opportunity to preserve the plays and poems in some form before a possible Spanish-Catholic controlled government could have shut down any possibility of ever bringing the "Shakespeare" works into print. 

(Phew! This one is admittedly rather complex!) 

The Folio appeared in late November 1623, dedicated to Henry de Vere's co-conspirators in the project to stanch the Spanish marriage. (The Folio was dedicated to de Vere's son-in-law and the son-in-law's brother -- a young man who at one point had been considered as a husband for another of de Vere's daughters.) The anti-Spanish marriage forces at court had won their battle. Charles did not marry the Spanish princess. But arguably the Spanish marriage situation is right in the background to the production of the entire First Folio.

I discuss this story in the Epilogue to SBAN -- and it draws on the pioneering work of the researcher Peter Dickson, some of which has been summarized in these articles

10. What do you know (if anything) about the author [sic] of the First Folio, Ben Jonson?

Ben Jonson is often called the editor of the Folio. It's a documented fact, for instance, that Jonson was on good terms with Edward de Vere's son Henry. Henry gave Jonson a copy of the works of Plato

Jonson's story in re the Folio is one that I'm fascinated in but, again, I think researchers today have only scratched the surface. So much more work in this field remains to be done. 

11. What do you know about the "Prince Tudor" Theory?

There are essentially two main "PT" theories: One says Edward de Vere was the secret son of Queen Elizabeth, born in 1548, and fathered by a favorite of Elizabeth's at the time, Thomas Seymour. The other theory says de Vere had himself fathered a secret son by Elizabeth, born circa 1573-'74, who was later raised as the Earl of Southampton. (There's also a conflation of these two, saying both "PT" theories are true, which can make for a rather squeamish story.)

I personally don't find the "PT" theories historically convincing. That is, I think the evidence is good that both Edward de Vere and the Earl of Southampton's parents are as we know them to have been and that neither de Vere nor Southampton were secret princes. 

However, I also find the "anti-PT" arguments very often to be sorely lacking in imagination. We are, after all, ultimately arguing about one of the greatest creative literary minds who ever lived.

To me, the "PT" theory is just as much an imaginative question as it is a historical one.

For starters, it's a known fact that the Elizabethan court (esp. in the 1590s and up to Elizabeth's death in 1603) was essentially a den of vipers where all kinds of rumors circulated, some of which were true and some of which weren't. And no one knew which was which. 

If the Oxfordian hypothesis is true, then it's also true that "Shakespeare" plays like A Midsummer Night's Dream stage the author's doubts -- in brilliant romantic comical form -- about the paternity of his eldest daugher Elizabeth de Vere. (Orthodox scholars have long suspected that MND was performed at Elizabeth de Vere's wedding.) 

So I say it's quite possible that "Shakespeare" considered and staged different versions of possible "PT" scenarios in the plays and poems. In part because he didn't know if there was any truth to the rumors about Elizabeth's possible offspring. And drama and poetry are in fact perfect outlets for exploring possibilities when one doesn't have access to any certain knowledge. 

12. Can you explain what you know about Aubrey's Book (the biography on William Shakespeare)?

Aubrey's Brief Lives is a sort of 17th century gossip column. John Aubrey was a bit of a tabloid journalist who drew some of his facts from real life and made some stuff up along the way too. He's not a reliable source for documentary evidence about any of his subjects. Some the things he says both about Shakespeare and many other contemporaries are just flat-out wrong. Check out this Google Books link for more. 

13. Can you explain why Edward de Vere died in 1604, but plays were still being written under the "Shakespeare" name years after Edward's death?

Untrue. Edward de Vere died in June of 1604, yes. But there's actually no reliable evidence that any "Shakespeare" play or poem was written after June of 1604. In fact, the evidence skews quite the opposite way. The evidence for dates of composition leading up to 1604 are very good -- contemporary references, allusions, etc. But then the evidence basically disappears. I've written at some length about this point, both as an appendix to SBAN and here.

14. Did you see the movie Anonymous? If yes, what did you think about the ideas posed in the movie?

I liked it. Here's my review


Looking in the Distance said...

Why did De Vere chose Shakspur? He didn't. Take the song 'Teddy Bear' - it's an Elvis Presley song - no it isn't - he didn't write the music or the lyrics - he just performed it.

Same with Shakspur!

Sonja Foxe said...

Yo -- Mark -- rereading your book, i'm amazed by the sensitivity of your analysis ... your observations support my theory of EI parthenos ... with the maiden head/hood nuances. speaking of which ... your parsing of apis lapis ... lapis might connote insensate, but the reference was lapidary as in lapis lazuli ... perhaps some artful token picked up in his travels, or somethiimng trenthame gave him ... may have been a blue boar of lazuli, and played with the lapis/apis tonations. -- i totally love your readings of the will/oxford/lady triangles in the comedies ... as for the upstart crow in others feathers ... i'd wager will was a comedian a la second city and he did a wicked impression of Euphes which made the Queen laugh ... say circa 90/91? Marlow wrote the Massacre as a way of currying favor with Walsingham who, as you note, had been there ... I think Marlowe was sent to Paris or environs by Walsingham & took something to or from Burleigh to Sir Edward Kelley ... who may have thru Kit have engineered the great book heist from John Dee's library ... and in his cups, bragged about the Factum Pactum which Marlowe hinted at in Faustus -- later excised ... I think deVere wrote the Epilogue of Faustus ... and when you jamb it up against the great reckoning in a little room, you've got one powerful sonnet